notes from new york city, april 2020

the trees are getting greener, if you can believe it

The gingko tree outside our window was one of the first on the street to bud, thanks to the way the tall apartment building across the street is shaped. It dropped all its leaves overnight in November, the first cold snap of the fall. Ever since then it’s been incredibly ugly. Little nubs on its spindly stick branches, like an infestation of warts. Every morning between November and April I’d wake up and look at the nubs, insufficient for any of the things a tree is supposed to do—like make shade, look nice, or be green—and think, I hate this fucking tree.

Yesterday I was riding my bike up Allen Street and stopped when I hit Delancey. A truck covered in bright LED displays drove by. The back screen was showing an advertisement for chairs and the sides had an animation that read THANK YOU TO OUR FIRST RESPONDERS on top of an American flag. The truck was blasting the final triumphant chorus of (Theme From) New York, New York by Frank Sinatra way too loud and rattling the buildings. UP. TO. YOUUU. NEWWW YORK. NEEEWWWW YOOOOOOOOORK! Just begging for pedestrians to rip off their pants and reveal sequined skirts and stop and high kick in place. I laughed from behind my mask so hard that I accidentally sucked it into my mouth when I breathed in.

I’m calling my mom and my grandparents more lately. Texting my dad more. They all keep going places. Last week I called my mom and she was wandering around in the Sam’s Club, looking for a big box of lightbulbs and some other piddly thing she doesn’t urgently need. But going to Sam’s is a fête, the pandemic social equivalent of attending a black tie gala. On Tuesday, my granny said she had to drive my grandpa—who’s going crazy from sitting all the time—to the store to pick out a specific type of printer paper he prefers. My other grandma says she’ll start going back to the gym when the governor reopens it. They’re all restless and I can’t keep tabs on them, except for calling every few days. I think of how my mom used to watch from our front door when my little brother pulled away from the house in his red truck, away from guaranteed safety and observation, away from her.

The city is getting greener, I noticed earlier this week. The other gingkos on my street are budding now and somehow, there’s all these tulips everywhere in full bloom. Who planted these? Pink flowers that I uniformly refer to as “cherry blossoms” (they’re not all cherry blossoms) are all over, in the parks where people sit in isolated little pods and in front of lucky peoples’ apartments. I always imagine you must have to be rich, to have a tree blooming like that outside your house. But probably it’s something even more illusive: just plain luck.

In the recurring nightmare I’ve had since March, my 56-year-old mom is pregnant and in labor and something is going terribly wrong. I’m the only person with her and we’re outside somewhere in the dirt. She’s weak and can’t stand up on her own, blood starts coming out of everywhere, and when I try to grab my phone from my pocket it keeps slipping out of my hands. Sirens are all around but none of them are for us. I can’t get an ambulance to come and take her to the hospital.

The greenness outside feels like a mirage, what with the cold. It’s never warm enough this time of year. Normally around now I’m wearing my jean shorts that I pulled out from under my bed, laying around with friends in a park for half an hour when a cloud moves overhead, and then remaining cold down to my bones all day long until I can take a hot shower and soak it out of me. Spring here is no good, for someone who grew up in a place with ten months of summer that gradually dip in and out of what equates to a New York City October. I’m looking at the green trees growing out of the sidewalks and can almost feel the hot, damp air of July and August. Can almost feel the big breath of humid night air hitting the bottom of my lungs. I spend the whole summer taking deep breaths.

A new fear: I’m scared Greg Abbott is trying to get my family killed. I’ve long hated the cabal of goonies who govern the state where everyone I love most lives, but now it feels personal. Does Abbott know that going to the gym too soon could kill my grandma? Does he know that I can’t do anything to stop any of them from my apartment in New York? Does he realize how ridiculous it sounds to earnestly say on the phone, “I’m worried you’re going to get sick and die? I keep having these dreams where you die?” It’s impossible to say this without sounding hysterical. Maybe you’ve tried it recently, and so you know.

My brain is trying to reconcile the way the city looks with how it feels. In the background of pictures taken on my fire escape last summer the gingko is so full you can’t see sky through its leaves. I can’t believe it ever looked that way but do know that the tree was part of how I decided this was the right apartment. The edges of the portrait of summer are filling in around me. I forgot how good it feels to stand up on both feet on a bike and let the chain click underneath you while you move forward without effort.